Lawyer turned social advocate Amlan Ganguly doesn’t rescue children; he empowers them through education and activism to battle poverty and transform their lives and communities. The Revolutionary Optimists follows Amlan and the children he works with—Shika, Salim, Kajal and Priyanka—as they staunchly fight against the forces that oppress them. Utilizing theater and dance, and supported by Amlan’s own considerable charm and skills of persuasion, these young activists are campaigning for clean water and improved sanitary conditions in their communities and struggling to ensure that children laboring in the brick fields on the outskirts of Calcutta are receiving an education.
Shot over the course of three years, Maren Grainger-Monsen and Nicole Newnham’s film vividly captures the vibrancy of India while taking us on an intimate journey with these children, during which we witness not only the changes they are able to make in their neighborhood, but also the changes within each of them.
The Revolutionary Optimists proposes a workable solution to intractable problems associated with poverty, including preventable diseases and ineffectual governance. Ganguly’s story suggests that education and child empowerment are crucial keys to lifting entire societies out of hopelessness.
Produced and Directed by Nicole Newnham and Maren Grainger-Monsen. The film opens nationwide in March of 2013, screens at ITVS Community Cinema events across the country through the spring, and will have its television premiere on PBS’ Independent Lens June 17th at 10pm (check local listings). Read reviews in The Village Voice and The Hollywood Reporter. The film has been nominated for a 2014 News and Documentary Emmy® Award.
A short film based on The Revolutionary Optimists was shown worldwide as part of TEDxChange, presented by Melinda Gates and developed in partnership with the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program.
Each year, 60,000 people from around the globe gather in a dusty windswept Nevada desert to build a temporary city, collaborating on large-scale art and partying for a week before burning a giant effigy in a ritual frenzy. Rooted in principles of self-expression, self-reliance and community effort, Burning Man has grown famous for stirring ordinary people to shed their nine-to-five existence and act on their dreams. Spark takes us behind the curtain with Burning Man organizers and participants, revealing a year of unprecedented challenges and growth. When ideals of a new world based on freedom and inclusion collide with realities of the “default world,” we wonder which dreams can survive.
Writes the New York Times: “The portraits here offer West Coast idealism and conviction coupled with an extravagant aesthetic vision. Since we can’t all attend Burning Man, we can be thankful for “Spark,” which is probably the next best thing.”
SPARK: A Burning Man Story had its world premiere at the 2013 South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival in Austin, TX, and has also been accepted to the Ashland Independent and Seattle International film festivals. SPARK is the opening night film of the 2013 SF DocFest and opens in New York and Los Angeles on August 16th. Produced and Directed by Steve Brown and Jessie Deeter. Read more at the official website.
When Donna Appell learned that her baby daughter Ashley suffered from a rare genetic disorder that would kill her in 30 years, she was told there were less than 30 people in the US who had been diagnosed with it and no one knew where to find them. Realizing that no one was going to help cure “just one child,” Donna set about forming an advocacy group and harnessing the internet to gather as many patients as possible who suffered from Hermansky-Pudlak Syndrome (HPS), which includes albinism, blindness, a bleeding disorder and often a fatal pulmonary fibrosis.
Filmed with intimate access over three years, the film follows Donna and her advocacy group as they travel to Puerto Rico and throughout the US in a race to fill a drug trial they hope could prolong her daughter’s life.
Produced and Directed by Maren Grainger-Monsen and Nicole Newnham. Check your local PBS listings and read more about the film HERE.
SOUND TRACKS: Music Without Borders is a new magazine show dedicated to reporting unheard stories that reveal how music is transforming politics and culture around the globe. The one-hour series pilot crosses three continents and serves up a diverse menu of Russian pop, Afrobeat, Portuguese fado, and symphonic work. Produced by The Talbot Players in association with Oregon Public Broadcasting for PBS. Marco Werman from Public Radio International’s “The World” hosts.
In the featured segment “Black President,” Werman travels to Nigeria to cover the living legacy of Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti and meet his youngest son, Seun.
“Black President” was produced by Cassandra Herrman and edited by Andrew Gersh. Watch the entire segment at PBS/Sound Tracks.
In collaboration with National Geographic, NOVA follows the exploits of acclaimed photojournalist James Balog and a scientific team as they deploy time-lapse cameras in risky, remote locations in the Arctic, Alaska, and the Alps. Grappling with blizzards, fickle technology, and climbs up craggy precipices, the team must anchor cameras capable of withstanding sub-zero temperatures and winds up to 170 mph. The goal of Balog’s team’s perilous expedition: to create a unique photo archive of melting glaciers that could provide a key to understanding their runaway behavior and their potential to drive rising sea levels. A production of NOVA and National Geographic Television.
Produced and Directed by Noel Dockstader. Watch the entire film at PBS/NOVA.
A celebration of individuality and the spirit of the American working class, READY, SET, BAG! (premiered at festivals as “Paper or Plastic?”) is an award-winning feature documentary following eight grocery-bagging state champions as they prepare for the nationals, held in the Mecca of the American dream, Las Vegas. Rural housewives, college students, awkward teens and lower management duke it out over speed, weight distribution and the X-factor of crushability.
An Ensemble Pictures Production. Produced by Justine Jacob. Directed by Justine Jacob & Alex D. da Silva.
As wars rage in the Middle East, the U.S. military is eager for more recruits–unless they happen to be openly gay. ASK NOT explores the tangled political battles that led to the infamous “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and reveals the personal stories of gay Americans who serve in combat under a veil of secrecy. ITVS Community Cinema screenings will include special presentations and discussions with leading community organizations in over 50 locations around the country. Watch the national broadcast premiere on PBS’ Emmy-award winning series, Independent Lens. San Francisco Int’l Film Festival
Not In Our Town: Light in the Darkness is a one-hour documentary about a town coming together to take action after anti-immigrant violence devastates the community. In 2008, a series of attacks against Latino residents of Patchogue, New York culminate with the murder of Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorian immigrant who had lived in the Long Island village for 13 years.
Over a two-year period, the story follows Mayor Paul Pontieri, the victim’s brother, Joselo Lucero, and Patchogue residents as they openly address the underlying causes of the violence, work to heal divisions, and begin taking steps to ensure everyone in their village will be safe and respected.
Directed by Patrice O’Neill of The Working Group. Watch the entire film at PBS.org.
For nearly 400 years, a group known as the Arara Indians, or the Jaguar People, have lived throughout the Amazon Basin. These indigenous people have defended their livelihood, culture, and beliefs against the Portuguese, Brazilians, and, until recently, North Americans. The Arara have managed to avoid contact with other groups and have protected themselves from extinction by constantly moving throughout the rain forest. This episode of NOVA follows a two-man crew, equipped only with specialized camera equipment, on a journey into the Brazilian Amazon to explore the mysteries of the Arara.
Produced and Directed by John Miles. Originally broadcast November 8, 1994.
While the California farm labor movement’s biggest names are Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, few know the crucial role that organizer Larry Itliong and a group of Filipino farm workers played in the establishment of that famous movement.
Itliong’s Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee instigated one of the American farm labor movement’s most defining moments, the Delano Grape Strike of 1965. Itliong — a five foot five, cigar-chomping union veteran — organized 1,500 Filipino laborers to strike against the grape growers of Delano, California for the federal minimum wage. They fought alone until Itliong persuaded Cesar Chavez and his group of Latino farmworkers to join the strike.
What happened after that made civil rights history: the two groups merged together to created the United Farm Workers Union (UFW), with Cesar Chavez as director and Larry Itliong as assistant director. Yet Larry’s story and the story of the Filipinos and their union organizing efforts that began in the 1920s in the US have virtually been forgotten.
Andrew Gersh co-wrote and edited a first cut of the film and a fundraising sampler/trailer which was awarded funding through the Independent Television Service (ITVS). Produced by Niall McKay. Directed by Marissa Aroy. Read more at the official site.
Neurosurgeon Dr. Jam Ghajar has a controversial technique he says is key to survival in the first week after major head trauma – but dangerously missing from standard procedure at some 70 percent of hospitals across the country. A co-production of WGBH/Nova and ABC News/PrimeTime Live. Produced by Linda Garmon.
Why does the 13th century Persian mystic Jelaluddin Rumi remain the bestselling poet in America? Featuring poetry and conversation with preeminent Rumi translator Coleman Barks, poet Robert Bly, Deepak Chopra, storyteller Michael Meade, mythologist Huston Smith and others. Musical performances by Grammy nominated artists Hamza El Din and Jai Uttal. Narrated by Academy award nominee Debra Winger. Directed by Haydn Reiss.
FRONTLINE: Rollover: The Hidden History of the SUV examines whether America’s most popular vehicle may also be one of its most dangerous, and investigates why automakers and government regulators failed to do more to protect and inform American consumers.
A co-production with Ark Media. Produced by Barak Goodman and Marc Shaffer.
A feature-length documentary and proposed television series exploring the creative process and collaboration between musicians of different generations, backgrounds and musical styles. Featured musicians include Ron Carter, Steve Turre, Broun Fellinis, Tom Ze, Tortoise, Isotope 217, Pharoah Sanders and John Faddis. Directed by Michael Jordan.
Power shortages. Rolling blackouts. Skyrocketing utility bills. California’s 2000-2001 power disaster made “energy” a national front-burner issue. In “Blackout,” FRONTLINE and The New York Times join forces to investigate the story behind the California energy crisis. Correspondent Lowell Bergman goes head to head with energy industry CEOs and state and federal officials to uncover what’s at the heart of the growing energy crisis, and who’s profiting.
A co-production of FRONTLINE and The New York Times. Produced and directed by Michael Chandler.
The New Heroes tells the dramatic stories of fourteen daring social entrepreneurs who are undaunted by the chronic challenges of poverty, illness, unemployment, violence, and ignorance they see in the world around them. These individuals have a revolutionary passion for identifying and solving large-scale social problems. Unlike traditional business entrepreneurs, their mission is to generate social value, not wealth. For social entrepreneurs, the bottom line is measured in lives. Hosted by Robert Redford, this four-part series aired nationally on PBS in the summer of 2005.
Andrew Gersh edited four segments of the series for Actual Films. This segment produced and photographed by Jon Shenk.
From THE NEW YORK TIMES: “”Secrets of Revelation,” oxymoronic title and all, is a thing of beauty: a real aesthetic and moral achievement by Jonathan Halperin, a San Francisco-based filmmaker. While addressing a combustible combination of political, historical, intellectual and theological concerns, his program… still manages to be only slyly didactic and also gripping. This accomplishment is all the more impressive when you contemplate the thorniness of his subject: the veracity of the Bible, the end of days and who will be saved.”
Produced and Written by Jonathan Halperin for National Geographic Channel. Watch the entire program at National Geographic.
From the CHICAGO TRIBUNE: “Three New Orleans families are followed in their post-Katrina journeys, which have been difficult, indeed. Houses lost, jobs lost, families split up and businesses facing uncertain futures – these are just a few of the problems these three patient clans endure. It’s easy to beat up on the cable-news channels for, in their day-to-day coverage, giving prominence to the travails of attractive white women or the rantings of spinmeisters of all stripes. But this quietly moving special… shows that there are journalists creating solid, worthy fare at the cable channels. Let us now give them credit where it’s due; “Rising” is an unobtrusively fine piece of work.”
Produced by Kelly Whalen for Ikana Media/MSNBC
Five years after 9/11, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Lowell Bergman investigates the domestic counterterrorism effort and asks whether we are better prepared to prevent another catastrophic attack. Through interviews with high-level sources from the FBI, Department of Defense and Homeland Security, and relying on previously undisclosed documents, Bergman reveals continued inter-agency rivalry, as well as troubling flaws in intelligence operations, that not only raise questions about what we actually know about the “enemy,” but also whether we have heightened our vulnerability to other threats.
A co-production of FRONTLINE with The New York Times. Produced by Lowell Bergman and Oriana Zill de Granados.
This powerful film by Jessie Deeter (producer of “Who Killed the Electric Car?”) is the story of the end of Liberia’s civil war. Years of fighting and squandered resources have left Liberia a shattered nation-state struggling to pull itself back together. UN Force Commander Daniel Opande has come to try to create order out of chaos; he has one year to deploy 15,000 multinational troops throughout the tiny West African nation, secure the country’s borders, make Liberia safe for civilians, and disarm 40,000 fighters from three warring factions.
Produced, Written and Directed by Jessie Deeter.
In a four-part special series, News War, FRONTLINE examines the political, cultural, legal, and economic forces challenging the news media today and how the press has reacted in turn. Through interviews with key figures in print, broadcast and electronic media over the past four decades — and with unequaled, behind-the-scenes access to some of today’s most important news organizations, FRONTLINE traces the recent history of American journalism, from the Nixon administration’s attacks on the media to the post-Watergate popularity of the press, to the new challenges presented by the war on terror and other global forces now changing — and challenging — the role of the press in our society.
In part three of “News War,” entitled “What’s Happening to the News”, Lowell Bergman examines the mounting pressure for profits faced by America’s network news divisions and daily newspapers, as well as growing challenges from cable television and the Internet. Bergman talks to network executives, newspaper editors and publishers, bloggers, Wall Street analysts and key players at Google and Yahoo! about the battle for market dominance in a rapidly changing world.
Produced by Stephen Talbot and Lowell Bergman. Watch the entire program at PBS/FRONTLINE.
From THE LOS ANGELES TIMES: “Over the past four years, (George) Lucas and Paramount Home Video have pumped millions of dollars into reframing “Young Indiana” as a lavish, three-volume library of DVDs with a staggering number of extras, including 94 highly polished documentaries on famous people and moments in history… The best part of the DVD series may be the new documentaries, which were led by CBS News veteran David Schneider.”
National Geographic Channel’s Explorer offers viewers a surprisingly intimate portrait of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay in its twilight. In a special two-hour episode premiering in April 2009, Explorer: Inside Guantanamo goes behind the razor wire to document what life is really like for the detainees and the military personnel who guard them.
Explorer’s crew spent nearly three weeks inside the prison, documenting the pressurized interaction and contest of wills among soldiers and detainees, as well as briefings and operations that have previously been off-limits. The film includes candid interviews with troopers at Guantanamo, top officials who believe there is an active al-Qaida cell in the facility, a former interrogator and former detainees, as well as attorneys representing those still being held.
Directed by Jon Else and Bonni Cohen.